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Growing Green: Ground Cover for Rough Sites

Do you have that weedy spot in your garden where grass just refuses to grow? Maybe it’s too shady or too steep or too rocky.  What to do before weeds take over? Why not try a tough, hardy ground cover?

A ground cover is a plant which forms a low growing, dense mat that covers the soil surface. Ground covers are ideal for sites that are hard to mow, under the shade of mature trees with protruding roots; in shady spots or in full sun.

Ground covers can be woody or herbaceous plants. Some have colorful flowers, while others provide attractive foliage and texture. Whatever your site conditions, there is a ground cover for you.

Miniature Stonecrop Sedum requieni:  (Hardy to zone 3) This indestructible full sun perennial is drought tolerant, and kid and pet traffic tolerant. Stonecrop is a low maintenance plant with tiny green leaves that form a tight evergreen mat whose foliage will turn red with heat or cold. Although grown primarily for its foliage, it does have tiny yellow star shaped flowers mid-summer. Plant in a well- drained soil. Once established, it needs only occasional watering.

Elfin Thyme Thymus serpyllum: (Hardy to zone 4) This miniature thyme forms a tight solid mat of gray/green foliage that is a perfect lawn substitute. Covered with light pink flowers in summer, it is a versatile groundcover for dry slopes, between stepping stones and creeping through a rock garden. Plant in full sun and well-drained soil. This plant is very drought tolerant and deer resistant

Alpine Mouse Ear Cerastium alpinum lanatum: (Hardy to zone 3) Gray, densely haired, low growing cushion to 3 ½” high with white flowers May and June.   Grow in full to part sun in well drained, gritty soil, regular water.  It also works nicely in a rock garden or over a retaining wall or as small scale groundcover. Tolerant of some foot traffic.

Cheddar Pink Dianthus gratianopolitanus “Petite”: (Hardy to zone 3) I just love pinks; they are super hardy, have a long bloom period and are quite fragrant. “Petite” has tiny, pink flowers on short spikes which cover the plant in early summer and bloom sporadically throughout the season. Its gray foliage hugs the ground and creeps outward, blanketing the ground wherever it roams. Plant around taller perennials, between pavers or as a replacement. It is tolerant of many soil types, but prefers good drainage.  Drought tolerant and deer resistant, this plant attracts bees and butterflies.

Cushion Soapwort Saponaria x oliviana: (Hardy to zone 4) This creeping evergreen forms a neat mat of tidy narrow succulent leaves, with lots of pink flowers opening in late spring or early summer. It looks great before, during and after bloom.  Plant between paving stones or over a retaining wall. This deer and rabbit resistant plant is drought tolerant and will tolerate light foot traffic. It prefers lean soil with good drainage.

Golden Creeping Jenny Lysimachia nummularia Aurea: (Hardy to zone 3) Golden creeping Jenny is a low-growing, evergreen groundcover with rounded, golden yellow leaves. In summer, it produces many cup-shaped, bright yellow flowers. Grow in a moist, but well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. It will tolerate partial shade, but full sun will produce the best color. This low maintenance groundcover is a good choice for areas where other plants fail. Plant along retaining walls or as a “spiller” in containers.

Variegated Mini Sea Thrift Armeria maritima 'Nifty Thrifty': (Hardy to zone 4) Nifty Thrifty Sea Thrift features beautiful balls of hot pink flowers from mid spring to early summer. Its tiny grassy leaves remain forest green in color with showy creamy white variegation throughout the year. This petite bloom works well in containers, in a perennial border or between spacing of stone. Plant in mass to create a unique carpet on the ground. It grows in part shade, and prefers morning sun and afternoon shade.  It tolerates many soil types, but prefers good drainage.

For more information about all sorts of ground covers, visit:

Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension.